Jesus and “Obama-Care”: Christian Socialism Inches Forward

No, Jesus was not a socialist (viral FaceBook images notwithstanding). But he did preach a radically prophetic message and he also lived it, including all those stories about miraculous physical healing.

The current brouhaha over healthcare in the United States is not “just” a secular, public policy issue. It is a deeply Christian one. A deeply spiritual one. And therefore a deeply human one. How we treat our own bodies and how we help others treat their bodies and how we structure our “body politic” so that no one need suffer just because they don’t have money or just because they don’t have a job or just because they are not legally married – all of this cuts to the heart of nearly every worldwide spiritual tradition and practice, including Christianity.

For those who think Christianity cares mostly or only about “saving souls,” reading gospel accounts of physical healing and restoration might be a good idea – perhaps especially when vilifying access to healthcare these days so often relies on describing it as “atheistic socialism.”

Christians using the Revised Common Lectionary this coming Sunday will hear not just one but two among many such healing stories – and both about women! (Yes, that mattered then just as much as it matters today.) The snippet provided by the lectionary from Mark’s gospel presents a bold and audacious woman reaching out for help – Jesus provides it (somewhat despite himself, one should note), and a grieving religious leader whose daughter had died.

There’s lots of intrigue to read between the lines of this short passage – politics (who has access to the healer); religion (circumventing proper clerical hierarchies); and culture (who counts, what matters, and how power is distributed).

Let’s just focus on the “access” part. The audacious (and, sadly, nameless) woman in this Markan passage (5:21-43) tosses aside political, religious, and cultural taboos to get what she needs – access to healing. Now this could be an isolated, stand-alone story with no further implications for our own political, religious, and cultural climate today. But St. Paul suggests otherwise.

The lectionary this Sunday also includes a snippet from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (and if you ever despair over today’s ecclesial culture, just read both of those letters and imagine the community Paul was dealing with!). On the surface, this is a strange and even rather boring little passage from Paul’s letter. But I think it carries a wallop (2 Corinthians 8:7-15).

Paul is apparently dealing with a community marked by uneven resources (sound familiar?). Some have lots of “means” while others have none but lots of “eagerness.” Paul wants them to work together to complete the good work they started. (And I can hardly resist reading this passage from his letter through the lens of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding healthcare reform: “it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something– now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.”)

Paul is crystal clear in this passage. Those who are blessed by abundance and those who are in need must work together as a single body, each providing what the other lacks. Paul cites his own religious tradition for this by noting, and I quote: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” So, “Occupy Rome,” anyone? I mean of course, ancient Rome…oh, okay, today’s Rome, too. Who has “too much””? Who doesn’t have enough? These are not “socialist” questions only; these are profound biblical, Christian questions. Why aren’t we asking them in our churches?

I love this passage from Paul. Abundance is not a sin. Neither is need. The point is that all work together so that all have what they truly need.

Ordinarily I would feel like I’m beating the proverbial dead horse to connect the dots here. But given the vitriolic rhetoric over healthcare reform in this country, I think it’s worth doing.

So herewith I connect the dots: If you’re wealthy and you know it, clap your hands. Then make sure that access to healthcare is available to everyone, like Jairus in Mark’s story. If you’re middle-class or poor and you know it, clap your hands. Then make sure that your insightful gifts are offered boldly and audaciously, like the woman with a hemorrhage in that same story from Mark.

So, no, Jesus was not a socialist. But Paul clearly was, and he was a socialist because of his encounter with the risen Christ.

People waiting for health services at a “free clinic.”

Worried about that label “socialist”? That’s okay. Just read his letters to the Corinthians. Oh, and his letter to the Romans, too. Read those letters in their entirety, not just snippets. But don’t miss this: We are all members of a single body. If anyone weeps, the whole body weeps. If anyone rejoices, the whole body leaps with joy. No member is expendable. No member is better than any other. We’re all in this together. That’s called “socialism.” Or rather, that’s called the Gospel – Good News.

The “Affordable Care Act” just affirmed by the United States Supreme Court is not a panacea. We have much more work to do. And here’s the truly peculiar thing: Both Jesus and Paul gave us the theological reasons to do that work.

So let’s do it.

Author: The Rev. Dr. Jay

I'm an Episcopal priest, parish pastor, and Christian theologian as well as a writer, teacher, and occasionally, a poet. I'm committed to the transforming energy of the Christian gospel and its potential to change the world -- even today. Now that's peculiar, thank God!

4 thoughts on “Jesus and “Obama-Care”: Christian Socialism Inches Forward”

  1. Thanks Jay. One of the words it’s hard to use is ‘share’. But I use it all the time with the kids when I do the Children’s Liturgy of the Word to plant it into their little hearts and minds. And I use it with my peers as well. It’s gotten a bad rap that little word with all that political baggage put onto it. But it’s the unspoken but present word at that supper when he broke the bread and extended the cup and said “Do this in memory of me.”

  2. “…No member is expendable. No member is better than any other. We’re all in this together. That’s called “socialism.” Or rather, that’s called the Gospel – Good News.” Good screed – all of it. I’m only quoting that last little bit because I think you’re hedging a little bit in trying not to call Jesus a “socialist”. (Whatever “socialist” means, for that matter. Pick a socialism…) It’s such a bad word – for some odd reason – in the US that one’s probably better off avoiding it for Jesus; one might get away with it for Paul!

    But, if Paul really was some sort of proto-socialist, it had to come from somewhere, didn’t it? SAUL wasn’t so very appealing – certainly not from the christians’ standpoint; but someone turned him around. And if God turned him around, presumably to being more godly, one might at least suspect that Paul’s socialism might be a divine trait. And if Jesus is God (however that works), then that might even make God a – shudder – socialist (not to mention Jesus).

    And. . .(he rambles on). . .if the Good News is, after one keeps peeling back layer after layer, actually the happy revelation of the nature of God; and if in turning Saul into Paul God finds there’s a lovely new socialist let loose, well, one might suspect that Paul is manifesting a bit of the divine unity that could be labelled “socialism”. (Oh, that’ll go down well in the suburbs.)

    I’m not actually complaining about anything you wrote – just rambling. And because I found myself smiling at one point as I read the post and thinking, “Oops, that was a wee theological two-step there, I fancy.” But, ok, Jesus and God transcend and encompass human categories and systems. That’s fair. Maybe we can just call them “social”? But even that might not pass muster!

    (I gave up preaching a few years back because I thought I’d said everything I had to say and I’d only be repeating it in permutations – probably to no avail anyway. Maybe I should try again and I wouldn’t land you with my musings! As you were. I thank you.)

  3. Wonderful! Thank you, Jay, for this insightful linking of theology to our national paroxysms over health care. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  4. Hmmmmm…NOPE! Christ told US to do these things. Not Caesar the government. I think it is fine for churches to organize these things. The problem is, they are relying on a government to do it FOR us. That same government is using it to gain wealth and control over the people. (Look at what’s happening now). All in the name of humanity. There is where the worst of tyrants gain a foot-hold.
    Socialism in ANY form is bad and has costed humanity millions in lives to support itself (Murders) and in defense of freedom.Socialism has never worked once. Christians are supposed to do these things mainly on a personal basis. Led by the Spirit of God. HE is supposed to lead…Not a heartless opportunistic government that takes advantage at every whim.

Leave a Reply